Beer is without a doubt one of God’s best creations and gifts to man. When Mr. Photographer was diagnosed with celiac, he embraced his new gluten-free way of life pretty quickly; we learned to bake decent gluten-free breads and found substitutes for most of his beloved foods. It’s been a couple of years, and I think the only thing he still truly misses is a good ol’ beer. There are gluten-free beers on the market, of course, but none of them is really on par with the real stuff. There is nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot summer day. It’s the ultimate fizzy treat, loaded with vitamins and minerals, and for that reason is often dubbed liquid bread. Beer and bread are actually closely related and originate from the same starting point: in their most basic form, they’re both made with same ingredients, just cereal and water. The yeast eats the sugars and multiplies, which in turn causes rising and produces alcohol. In contrast to beer fermenting process, most of the alcohol is unfortunately going to be burned off in baking, but even so, there are many reasons to experiment with beer in the kitchen: it adds a subtle malty sweetness to baked goods, and makes them lighter and crispier as well.
In all my years living in the States, I’ve never managed to develop the taste for the pillowy soft and squishy white bread sold in supermarkets. I need something hearty and substantial to sink my teeth into (not to mention all that sugar in commercially made breads makes my hair stand up on end). I make all gluten-free breads we eat, and 99 percent of gluten bread our men-sons consume. I like to know what’s in our food, and it does my mother’s heart (and I’ll be honest, my pride!) good to hear them saying “Could you bake something? We’re out of bread!”, even though there is store bought bread sitting in our freezer, and has been there for weeks – still wrapped up and untouched.
So as my first bake of 2017 I present to you bread the way we like it: crispy from the outside and chewy on the inside, pleasantly salty, with wonderfully crisp crust. These rolls are great dunk in a hot soup, even better as hot dog buns and make wicked good sandwiches with salami and cheese. Their secret ingredient? Beer. Don’t worry, it’s not at all overpowering – actually adds just a touch of sweetness and interesting taste you’re not sure where is coming from. The dough is easy to make and a dream to work with, and the scraps are great for pretzels: sprinkled with coarse salt and seeds and dipped in mustard, they’re the greatest little bites of beer to share with friends.
Turns out, you can have your beer and eat it too! How awesome is that?! Cheers to the new year – may we all continue to bake the world a better place!
Beer Pretzel Rolls
(makes 8 rolls)
- 500 g (17.5 oz.) strong bread flour
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 40 g (about 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
- 200 ml (oz.) lager
- scant 150 ml (5 oz.) full-fat milk
- pinch sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
+ 1 ½ liters water with 3 tablespoons baking soda – for water bath
+ 1 large egg yolk, mixed with 1 tablespoon water – for egg wash
+ coarse salt & various seeds (optional)
- To make the dough: Combine lukewarm milk with pinch of sugar and yeast; let stand for 15 minutes to activate.
- Place all the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. When the yeast mixture looks nice and bubbly, add it to the flour and start mixing on a low speed. If the dough looks too dry, add in couple more tablespoons of milk, 1 tablespoon at a time; if it’s too wet, sprinkle in more flour. Continue kneading until the dough comes together in a ball, and it’s soft, smooth, and elastic, about 15 minutes. Transfer the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, non-drafty place for about 1 hour, until it doubles in volume.
- Making the rolls: Divide the dough into 8 equal portions, each around 100 g (3.5 oz.) Form small balls and then roll each one into a sausage about 15 cm (6 inches) long. Place the rolls with enough space between them onto baking sheets lined with parchment. Cover and let them rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C).
- In a large enough pot, bring water and soda to a simmer. Working with one roll at a time, carefully lower it into the water, cook for 30 seconds, turn it over, and cook it for 30 seconds more. With a slotted spoon, remove the roll from the water and place it onto a parchment lined sheet. (Baking soda bath gives the rolls distinctive flavor and helps with browning as well.)
- Brush the rolls with egg wash, score with a sharp knife or baker’s lame, sprinkle with coarse salt and seeds, if using, and bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the rolls turn deep brown. Don’t try to rush the process and don’t take them out too soon – you want them dark; this way they will be crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
- To make pretzels, divide the dough into equal portions, each about 50 g (1.7 oz.). Roll each piece into a long rope and twist into pretzel form. Let the pretzels rise the second time on baking sheets, give them a coat of egg wash, sprinkle them with salt/seeds, and bake at 400 °F (200 °C) for 12 – 15 minutes.
- The rolls are best on the day they’re made, but can be frozen and reheated/freshen up in the oven.